Almost half of our readers are located outside of the United States and the European Union. Yet, the majority of our customers in these countries are mainly selling in the US or Europe. Or both.
One of our subscribers, Ariel, is one of them.
In this article, he explains how he started selling in the United States, on Amazon.com, while being based in Israel and Europe.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you did before starting with your current business
I was born in France, and moved to Israel about 20 years ago.
I always had a passion to travel, so, logically, I always searched for source of incomes that can be managed from any places in the world.
I studied economics, but worked a very briefly as an employee. Only about 2 years, then I began to import goods from the United States, to France for several years when I still lived there. Essentially motorcycles and accessories.
When I arrive in Israel, I first worked in software for a big company.
In parallel, I began to sell online about 10 years ago, at Ebay France, managing the shop digitally from Israel while having a partner in France taking care of all the “physical” work.
Then I discovered Amazon FBA nearly 4 years ago, and I found it was a perfect fit for me.
It allows me to be free of all the worries about warehouse to stock my inventory and also I don’t have to deal with packaging and shipping every unit sold to the customer.
It also can be run from any place, so I can make a living while travelling around the world.
About a year ago, I was able to quit my job as an employee and work full time on my online business.
For half a year, I have a VA from the Philippines helping me with recurring tasks and social media.
What made you choose importing diving related products?
I tried several types of products, with varying levels of success.
As I am non-US based, I need products with a minimum maintenance, because it is quite complicated for me to deal with returns.
Now, it is easier to find fulfillment centers that also take care of the returns, but a few years ago, it was very difficult.
Beside of that, I always had a passion for the sea since I was very young.
I travel a lot to the South of Spain, and I lived near the sea, so I decided to develop a line of products related to water sports.
I study the trends of the Full Face Snorkels Masks, and it seems to me a very interesting product to begin a line.
Was this your first choice or did you ever try to import and sell other products?
Like I said before, I imported several kinds of products, from China. Perhaps the most remarkable one was an oil diffuser.
It was a good product, but we had an issue with a specific part causing the diffuser to warm up a lot, and we decided to stop it.
At this time, I was less experienced, and we import the products without checking deeply enough the supplier and without any product inspection.
We had the chance to finally break even and not lose money, and I didn’t let myself be discouraged by this bad experience and decided to go on with other products.
Did you decide to go for a custom designed product or a private label product?
I think it is two completely different things.
In my opinion, if you want to create a brand and carry a line of several products, it is more suitable to choose private label products.
The first one will take longer because you will have to create your brand identity, your logo and everything, but after you just have to add more products using the same concept.
If you have a great idea for a totally new product, you got to go for a designed one, but it will take much more time to design it and have it produced, and also the marketing is completely different.
I decided to go to private label products for the ABTech brand, because our main goal is to build a brand and gather and audience.
Also, it seems to me more difficult to design a product from scratch, you must really know what you are doing and make a very deep market research.
Therefore, in addition to our line of private label products, we are now in the process of creating a brand new product in the TV game niche, it takes us some time and we must weight every step very carefully, but it is a fascinating path; maybe it will be the subject of an another article when it will be ready.
When you decided to start importing from China, how did you go about to find suppliers?
I was working with suppliers in the United States, but it appears that they are more expensive that the Chinese ones despites of all the shipping fees, and also, they are more difficult to work with.
They often request guarantees that the Chinese [suppliers] don’t offer. In addition, the US manufacturers are in general a lot less flexible and ready to make any kind of design changes.
So I decided to import goods from overseas.
First, I always began my search in Alibaba.com, because it is for me the most easy and practical way to do it.
There is a huge database of suppliers, and you can really find everything.
You have all kinds of sellers there, manufacturers, wholesalers, agents, and so on, and it is not always easy to distinguish one from another.
I found also that the quality of the products was fluctuating, so you got to be very careful and run a deep research before passing the final order.
I try to contact as many suppliers as I can, and receive as much samples as I can be able to pick up the right one.
But I found that sometimes supplier sends a certain sample, and then when you order, they supply a lower quality product.
Now, I decided to work with a local agent, as it is worth paying the additional price but avoid a lot of troubles.
What kind of challenges did you face when dealing with Chinese suppliers?
When you contact suppliers in Alibaba, most of them don’t even answer or answer very late, and after you begin to be contacted by all kind of “suppliers” that are not always related to your initial search.
Beside of this, with the oil diffuser, we came across a very serious quality issue.
We are selling on Amazon US, so there is a delay between the sales and the feedback from the customers.
We ordered a test order of 120 units, the product was very original and good looking, and it was Q4 when the sales are higher, so we sell out very fast.
We ordered a second batch of 504 units very rapidly, and as the product was already in production, we began to see returns and customers reporting technical issues with the diffuser.
By the time we understood the issue was serious, the good was already completely paid and on their way to the states.
We tried to speak with the supplier with no success; he even disappeared after a few weeks.
Luckily, we succeed to break even and most important, no customer was hurt but it was a hard lesson to learn.
How long did it take before you could launch your first product?
We began to contact suppliers at the end of May this year, and the product just hit FBA a few days ago.
This is nearly 6 months, but this time we contacted a lot of suppliers, and order samples from 5 different sources.
We had friends and family test every product very conscientiously, the Snorkel Masks samples arrived at the end of the summer, so it was still very hot and we had plenty of time to test them.
We could have done faster, but it was very important to us to bring a high quality product.
And once you did, what kind of sales channels did you work with?
We are working principally in Amazon.com, and looking to sell through our own website soon.
As long as it is a completely different approach to sell on Amazon or to sell on our own website, we decided to concentrate our efforts first on Amazon while beginning to develop and audience through social media, and then begin to sell on our own website.
Until then, we also will have more products that are already in production now.
With all the horror stories that everyone hears about [selling on] Amazon and how they suspend account without any explication and warning, it is good to have a “plan B” and develop different channels to sell your products on.
Therefore, I think it is important to first be a specialist in one channel before looking to develop another one.
How do you market your products?
Our plan is to launch the product using principally internal Amazon PPC and Facebook promotions.
I think Amazon PPC is still the most efficient way to promote products, unless you have enough followers and an established audience on social media, which could take a lot of time.
For this reason, we are now using the tools that Amazon is giving us to launch our first product, while building an audience on Facebook and Instagram that hopefully will allow us to better launch the next products on these platforms.
What does the future hold for your ecommerce business?
We already have accounts in the 5 countries of Europe, and after the launch in the US, we will look how to bring our brand to the EU market.
Obviously, the EU market is completely different, and not always the same products that go well in the US are also going well in the EU.
In addition, there is a language barrier, but I have the chance to speak and write 3 languages of the 5 needed: English, French and Spanish.
We will use translator services for Amazon in Italy and Germany.
Like I said before, we also plan to build our own audience and then sell through our own website, to be less dependable of Amazon or EBay.
Thank you so much for sharing all this. Where can our readers find out more about your products?
As I said before, we are launching a line of products in the water sport niche.
Our first product is a Snorkel Mask Full Face, but we have Dry Bags in shipment right now, and we will have also Swim Fins and a few more items at the beginning of next year.